How Should Sports Fashion Brands Approach Influencer Marketing in 2020?

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For millions of consumers around the world, sports and lifestyle influencers are a huge part of what motivates them to push to achieve their personal goals.

For sports fashion brands, this means influencers are a key part of their goals, too. Only instead of trying to run a faster 100m dash or finally nail the handstand scorpion, these brands are targeting goals for online engagement, product exposure, and sales.

Recently, we examined the importance of authenticity and brand values in activewear and athleisure brands, and the ways in which brands can - and should - communicate these values to consumers. This is a great way for brands to set themselves apart and provide unique experiences to their fans.

In this article, we’ll look at a few key questions for brands pursuing influencer partnerships in 2020, and offer some ways to make these partnerships count.

Let’s start by looking at a couple of major trends when it comes to sports influencers.

Trend #1: Sports influencers are the new personal coaches

For sports fashion consumers, influencers represent the ultimate achievement of fitness and lifestyle goals. They’re not only a source of inspiration for active people: they also help offer tips, encouragement, and advice for fans wanting to get involved with a particular sport.

This is especially the case for Gen Z, the generation of users between 13-24 years old. These users are in the driver’s seat when it comes to setting online trends, including sports fashion trends. And boy do they love sharing content!

In 2019, Gen Z users shared over 110 million posts about sports fashion, including celebrating their achievements, seeking input on their challenges, and recommending great products to other like-minded people.

One effect of all this content? It’s turning sports influencers into personal coaches.

This includes athletes like trail runner and ultra-marathoner Denise Bourassa, who shares inspiring content on her Instagram page, tinybdo. For novice runners looking to improve their performance, or for experienced runners seeking answers to specific questions, Denise’s account is a treasure trove of tips and advice.

Trail runner Denise Bourassa offers advice and inspiration for fans on Instagram.

As active people look for more diverse sources of activity and inspiration than simply going to the gym, platforms like Instagram are occupying a much more central role as a source of motivation, guidance, and community.

By tracking hashtags, users can expose themselves to a similar level of encouragement and support as they get via personal coaches. While this may not be as personal or tailored, for many users it is equally meaningful.

Influencers can help individuals dream higher with sports. Taking inspiration from an experienced athlete with a great online presence can also add a sense of legitimacy for individuals who may just be starting out, and who don’t quite know the ropes yet.

In short, there’s a reason why #workout is still the most popular topic discussed on social. Users are looking for their daily source of inspiration and guidance, and looking to established athletes is a great way to get this from people who know what they’re doing.

Trend #2: In sports fashion, tribes are everything

When it comes to sports fashion, consumer tribes are crucially important.

Tribes are groups of people connected through similar values of consumption, and a commitment to collective interests and behaviours. Think Brooklyn-based marathon runners, or powerlifters in Prague - you get the idea!

With sports fashion and fitness cultures, fans and customers don’t just align themselves according to the products they purchase. Instead, they form tight communities around a well-defined interest, and share information, support, and guidance with each other.

This means that inside the hundreds of thousands of posts and online conversations concerning a big sports fashion name like Nike or Adidas, there are hundreds of niche communities at work. For example, inside the umbrella of Adidas rugby fans, you’d find Tokyo club rugby players.



Adidas rugby fans are one example of an active consumer tribe at work.

Knowing exactly how your fans and customers affiliate into different online tribes can unlock the door for marketing with a much higher degree of authenticity and relevance.

For example, instead of simply finding tribes of joggers, a shoe brand could define a more niche audience (let’s say, Paris-based weekend trail runners) and tailor content to suit them specifically. This would drive a lot more engagement than broad brush content.

This is all part of what marketing guru Seth Godin refers to as ‘the smallest viable audience’. By focusing on tribes, brands can tailor their marketing to engage and delight well-defined groups. This communicates a unique brand identity, rather than trying to appeal to everyone at once.

So, with all that in mind, how should sports fashion brands partner with influencers to find and engage new tribes of fans in 2020?

How should brands approach sports fashion influencing in 2020?

As everyone on Instagram knows these days, influencer fatigue is very real.

People are tired of seeing the same old stuff, and the bar for brands to surprise and delight their audiences is now higher than ever.

With that in mind, here are four specific suggestions for how sports fashion brands should approach influencer partnerships in 2020.

Tip #1: Target niches of fans and customers - in surprising ways

It’s no longer enough for sports fashion brands to simply choose the biggest names in the culture and build exposure from there. Instead, brands need to show they care about niches of fans, and they understand how customers are engaging with their products.

Influencing isn’t just a numbers game: you also need to focus on the quality of engagement between online personalities and their followers. As we’ve seen with our examples looking at the Chinese makeup influencer scene, sometimes it’s better to focus on smaller communities.

This also means looking for opportunities for fresh and surprising partnerships, such as Lacoste’s amazing Golf LeFleur collection designed alongside musician Tyler, the Creator.

Lacoste’s Golf LeFleur line made in collaboration with Tyler, the Creator. Source: The Source

The Golf LeFleur collection isn’t just a great fit in terms of aesthetics - it also shows that Lacoste is paying attention to the specific tastes of its fans and followers.

Tip #2: Look for underserved or under-appreciated communities

It’s a harsh fact that some communities of sports fans don’t get as much attention as others. For every Olympic equestrian event broadcast around the world to millions of fans, there’s Finland’s annual Hobby Horse tournament.

This doesn’t mean these unsung tribes of fans shouldn’t be celebrated, though. In fact, brands should look for ways to find underserved communities of online users and partner with them in novel and attention-grabbing ways.

Tip #3: Build your familiarity with your customer base at a cellular level

Successful influencer marketing rests on a deep understanding of what your fans care about. In order to offer content to drive discussion and comment, brands need to build their familiarity with the values, concerns of their customer base - and even the specific language they use.

For example, brands looking to make inroads into the luxury streetwear market in China with influencer partnerships would need to first build their understanding of what Chinese users are saying on social, and what they care about most.

This is what makes social intelligence such a key asset underpinning influencer partnerships for sports fashion brands. With social listening tools, brands can analyze millions of conversations and exchanges across different platforms, and can use this analysis to guide their marketing.

Tip #4: Don’t add to influencer fatigue

Trust us on this: the world doesn’t need any more plastic influencers peddling products without any meaningful connection to the brand.

Influencer partnerships are coming under more scrutiny than ever before, and brands need to put in the time and effort to craft genuine and engaging campaigns.

This is a challenge, but it’s also a major opportunity for brands to partner with people who offer a fresh and authentic voice for fans - like Canadian sports fashion influencer Lady Divine.

Influencers like Lady Divine are a fresh and inspiring voice for sports fashion fans.

By putting in the effort to find new, surprising influencer voices, sports fashion brands can stamp their mark in a crowded marketing landscape.

Successful influencing is all about knowing your audience

There’s a common theme running through all of our pointers for 2020: successful influencer marketing is about knowing your audience in detail.

Using this knowledge, sports fashion brands can match their products and aesthetic with genuine, committed influencers. Even more crucially, they can avoid coming off as cringey.

Fans of sports fashion brands are always looking for authentic and engaging content online, whether its a guide to the most demanding trail runs, tips on hydrating after cardio, or simply a rundown of the latest lines of sneakers or leisurewear.

Social intelligence is a great way to gather brand and consumer insights, especially when it comes to trendsetting groups of users. For example, Gen Z users alone shared over 120 million posts mentioning the top 37 sports fashion brands around the world in a single year.

These posts provide brands a reliable base to build their understanding of what their fans care about, and to market their products with influencer partnerships.

The best influence comes from knowing your fans

There’s no real shortcut when it comes to influencer marketing for sports fashion brands.

Instead, brands need to follow the trends - like sports influencers being the new personal coaches, and the importance of tribes - and look for opportunities to find surprising and meaningful partnerships with influencers. Tip: The Meltwater social influencer tool helps you find the right influencer for your sports brand. It makes it possible to streamline the entire process and ensure maximum ROI from your influencer partnerships.

The key step in all of this? Know your audience, and find out how to give them more of what they want.

Next week, we’ll continue our exploration of the sports fashion industry with a deep dive into sports fashion trends in China. This isn’t just a good snapshot of the Chinese market - it’s also a helpful rundown of what brands need to do to succeed there.

While you’re here, be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming report examining Gen Z’s love affair with sports fashion, too!

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